DEAR CAL -- I have a 13-year-old nephew who plays baseball for several tournament teams. He's very good and big for his age. Recently, he was playing first base in a tournament and fielded a throw that pulled him off the bag. When he made a swipe tag at the runner, the tag hit the runner in the head and knocked him to the ground. The next thing we knew, the opposing coach, who happened to be the runner's dad, charged the field and tackled my nephew.
Amazingly, neither umpire claimed to have witnessed the tackle. However, almost everyone else on the field and in the stands did. No melee ensued, but my nephew was so shaken by the episode, he had to leave the game. The coach made a half-hearted apology only after my brother-in-law confronted him after the game.
What do you do about coaches who lose control of themselves during games to the point of physically assaulting the kids? Second, even though my nephew is nearly the size of many adults, he's still a 13-year-old kid. Should he be playing with older, bigger kids, or should he stay in his own age group?
Jeff Fuller, Madisonville, Ky.
DEAR JEFF -- The first part of your question is easy, although the topic itself is a difficult one. There is no place in youth sports for a coach who completely loses control of his or her emotions, and a coach who physically assaults a player of any age should be prohibited from continuing in that position. One of the responsibilities of being a coach is to be a role model on the field.
Young minds are easily shaped, and many kids develop a great deal of respect for their coaches, so it is important that coaches in turn understand and respect their roles as teachers and mentors. A coach that loses control gives his players the impression that it is OK to handle difficult situations in that manner, no matter the setting.
Sure, competition tends to breed controversy, disputes and confrontation. So does life. But just as there are proper ways of handling those situations in business or at home, there are proper ways of handling them on the field. Losing control of one's emotions consistently is not an acceptable method of reacting.
As for the question about your nephew playing in an older age group, it is always important for coaches and parents to be aware of potential injury situations that can arise because of players who are more skilled than their teammates or opponents, or because of size differences.
I'm sure that your nephew has many friends on his team and enjoys playing with kids his age, so there should be a concern about his social development. However, sometimes safety has to come first.
If this was an isolated incident, I'd let him stay right where he is. But if his size has caused injuries or seems to create potential injury-causing situations on a regular basis, I would recommend moving him up a level for at least a year.
More than likely, the other kids will catch up with him physically within a year or two, and he'll end up right back where he belongs in terms of age.
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